The initial idea for realising K9 was to use a small actor inside a robotic Dobermann costume, but that was rejected in favour of a radio-controlled prop, designed by Tony Harding and made by the BBC Visual Effects Department. The Radio Control Model Centre in Harlington Middx owned by Derek Wales was commissioned to build the electronics into the first original basic shell and consequently the centre operated the dog on set for the BBC. The robot suffered from numerous technical problems during its time in the series, often malfunctioning because the radio controls interfered with the cameras and vice versa. On location, K9 also proved unable to traverse uneven terrain, and shots had to be conceived with this in mind. Workarounds included using a concealed piece of twine to pull the character along (this string can be clearly seen in a shot of K9 on Brighton Beach), or laying wooden planks on which it could roll.
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K9 Mark I's mechanisms included rotating ear-probes, telescopic "eye" probe, an extendable nose concealing a powerful laser weapon, flashing lights on the top and the "eye" panel, waggling tail antennae, and ticker-tape tongue. His head could move up and down. His shell was painted in metallic gold/grey. There was a monitor screen on his left flank, though K9 rarely used this during his travels with the Doctor. Around K9's neck was a tartan collar, (being the Family Tartan of the Clan Buchanonn) from which hung a silver disk. (TV: The Invisible Enemy) He was later modified to fly through the vacuum of space. (TV: Curse of Anubis)
Professor Frederick Marius, who invented the first K9 in the year 5000 while working on the asteroid K4067, described him as "my best friend and constant companion." Marius had a dog on Earth, but weight requirements did not allow him to bring his real dog into space, so he built K9. (TV: The Invisible Enemy) He built K9 by using the latest technology. Marius used his own medical computer, a state-of-the-art intraresponsive brain app, protective anti-radiation cladding, probes, a laser scapel, a vision and voice box and two scanning antennas. He put these parts together and created K9. (PROSE: One Man and His Dog) According to one account, the Professor copied the remnants of one of the versions of K9 created by the Doctor and given to Sarah Jane Smith. (PROSE: Tautology)
A third model, K9 Mark III was evidently constructed by the Fourth Doctor; indeed, the Eighth Doctor did not dispute the presumption that he had built this K9. (PROSE: Interference - Book Tqo) Mark III travelled with the Fourth Doctor and Adric for a time. (PROSE: Inter-Galactic Cat) Eventually, however, he was shipped in 1978 to Sarah Jane Smith at the home she had shared with her Aunt Lavinia in South Croydon during her companionship of the Third and Fourth Doctors. (TV: A Girl's Best Friend) Since parting ways with the Doctor (TV: The Hand of Fear) however, Sarah Jane had already gone away and was travelling extensively. The following year, Lavinia purchased a manor house and market garden in Moreton Harwood, Gloucester, and took the still crated K9 with her. On 18 December 1981, Sarah Jane and her foster brother Brendan Richards arrived at Lavinia's home for Christmas, but Lavinia had left early for her lecture series in the United States. Sarah Jane opened the crate and received her new companion. (TV: A Girl's Best Friend)
Unlike 25 years earlier where she appeared unconcerned with K9 Mark III being seen, Sarah Jane restricted K9 Mark IV to her Ealing house except in emergencies or when she required his services, lest she have to explain him. Her son Luke covered by explaining to a puzzled Peter Dalton that K9 was a Japanese robot toy with pre-programmed phrases. (TV: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith) Nevertheless, she sent K9 to serve Luke when he went away to the University of Oxford. (TV: The Nightmare Man)
Within the series' narrative, K9 is a robot dog acquired by Doctor Who's title character in the 1977 serial The Invisible Enemy. The first two incarnations of the character travelled alongside the Fourth Doctor (portrayed by Tom Baker) until 1981. In these stories, K9 proved useful for the powerful laser weapon concealed in his nose, his encyclopaedic knowledge and his vast computer intelligence. By 1981, each of the two models of K9 which travelled alongside the Doctor had been left with one of the Doctor's female companions. The character subsequently transitioned into spin-off territory. Producers hoped K9's popularity with children would launch the series K9 and Company, led by actress Elisabeth Sladen in the role of companion Sarah Jane Smith alongside a new K9. In 2006, K9 reappeared in the revived series of Doctor Who. Although the character's appearances in the 2007 spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures were hampered by the concurrent development of the K9 spin-off, the character began to appear full-time in both K9 and The Sarah Jane Adventures, depicting adventures of the original K9 Mark I and of Mark IV, respectively.